Taiwan: Humanitarian Mission in Somaliland
The mission of the
Below is an article written by Ho-Yi Ching and published by the
One day in May 2005, Liu Chi-chun, founder of Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps, received an email, saying, "We both are orphans in the international community. Nevertheless, you have 20 some friends and you are rich, we only have one friend and we are poor. And the things you do are what my people need. Can you come to help us?"
The sender was Farah Ali from the
Liu, a dentist, has long been dedicated to humanitarian relief work. In 1995 he started organizing volunteer service teams to offer monthly free clinics and educational materials to Taiwanese, mostly aboriginals, living in remote and inaccessible mountain villages.
In 1999, he was asked by
"Medical services should transcend national borders and not be circumscribed by politics, race or religion," Liu says. "Like most people, I knew little about
Liu made a fact-finding tour to the African country last year. "
On that visit, Liu contacted Somaliland's Ministry of Health and Labor (MOHL),
Through the arrangement of Taiwan Root, Cristina Chen, a lecturer at Tzu Chi College of Technology's Department of Nursing, headed to Somaliland in August last year to implement a hospital management project. During her six-month stay, Chen helped establish a filing system for patient records, schedule nursing rounds and track hospital equipment inventory, in addition to teaching in a local school.
Taking a Team
In late February this year, Liu led a 24-member team, including dentists, pediatricians, physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory technicians and general workers, to the African country for a two-week medical mission.
"We have been hoping for this mission for a long time. We're isolated, not only politically but also in regard to humanitarian aid.
Iman says his country's infrastructure and health-care system were seriously damaged as a result of a civil war between 1988 and 1991 and have yet to be rebuilt. He is glad to see Taiwan Root providing medicines and training for medical workers. "We hope to expand cooperation with
Yassin Abdi, director of the
At his hospital, for example, there are only 10 doctors, partly due to budget constraints. "Most doctors here are working in the private sector as they can earn US$50 an hour, compared to US$50 a month in the national hospital," he says. "We have shortages even in the city. How can we provide medical care in the countryside?"
Abdi adds that the doctors working in his hospital are largely in their mid-40s like himself. Increasing the number and quality of young medical professionals is at the top of his list. "Our priorities are the training of new nurses and doctors both in the university and hospital levels as they are the future of our country," he stresses.
There is a huge gap between war-ravaged
Furthermore, Somalilanders wishing to pursue advanced studies overseas find innumerable obstacles in their way. "Besides the financial problem, our people have difficulty in obtaining visas as our passports aren't accepted by most countries."
Dearth of Know-how
As a result, Abdi says, his country needs experienced instructors who can introduce up-to-date medical knowledge and techniques to both teachers and students. He is grateful to Taiwan Root for launching nursing training and administrative management projects in his hospital.
Likewise, Derie Ereg, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the
"It's a nice job that we will never forget. Not only my students appreciate it, but also the public you've treated. For many of them, probably, it's the first time they have ever seen a doctor," he says. "Moreover, I can imagine how tough it is for you to be in a place where there is no running water, no entertainment and no good-looking things."
During their mission to the northwest region, Taiwan Root volunteers had to traverse dusty, bumpy roads that seemed to stretch out in all directions and endure the heat inside vehicles for hours to reach the villages where they were to provide treatment, only to have to set off for another destination before nightfall to avoid the dangers and difficulties of traveling at night.
The convoy consisted of jeeps and vans, as well as trucks loaded with generators and a big water tanker, in addition to medical supplies. By the end of the day, team members were each given a barrel of water to shower themselves and had to prepare their own food and find a place to rest in their sleeping bags.
Often, long before the arrival of the Taiwanese medical team at the temporary stations, local residents had already swarmed in and formed long queues.
Khadra Mohamed, a farmer and father of 10, was among them. "Our village chief told us a few weeks ago that a medical team from
Thirty-year-old Roun Maxamed had suffered from a severe headache and consequent insomnia since 1997. "It's hard for me to fall asleep because of the headache," she told the medical team. "It's great that you are here to help me and our community. Please come back again."
Volunteer Hwang Cheng-lung, a physician, was surprised to find so many patients there had chronic pain, were seriously ill and had received no medical assistance.
Lack of Apparatus
One girl, aged 19, for instance, had been sick for two years, with a gross, swollen tumor in her leg. She had to have a CT scan and the tumor tissue analyzed first to see if the tumor was malignant before anything could be done. But there is no such apparatus anywhere in
Another case involved an 18-month-old infant, who had a fever and was short of breath. Hwang discovered his lungs were congested with sputum, likely caused by pneumonia. But since suction and oxygen machines were not available, he was unable to treat the young boy. The next day, Hwang was told the baby had died.
"If these patients were in
Hwang thinks the most significant task the team does is to equip the medical students with more know-how, the better to serve their countrymen after the team has left.
Keen to Learn
Chang Yu-tai, an associate professor in endocrine and oncologic surgery and emergency room director, says in
"As the saying goes, it's better to teach a man how to fish than to just give him fish. I feel we can better develop our functionality in this country, given their initiative in improving their medical care," he says. "Meanwhile, we're highly respected there. That is a boost to our self-confidence."
Chang adds that, while traveling to less-developed areas like
You Jy-haw, a senior ophthalmologist, says Somalilanders who need cataract operations are aged 60 on average, compared to 70 in
"Current medical conditions in Somaliland are similar to those of
In Somaliland, You came into contact with many conditions he had never seen, despite more than 20 years of experience in
Nevertheless, You helped some out by conducting more than 20 operations in
Participating in an international mercy mission, You adds, gives another dimension to a doctor's life, and he is glad to contribute his expertise to different ethnic groups. "Initially, local doctors and patients seemed to have some doubts about my professional skills, but they were soon dispelled as I was asked to conduct as many operations as possible," he says. "This confirms my belief that medical services can eliminate cultural barriers in a short time to build mutual trust and interaction."
Indeed, the trust and interaction that Taiwan Root has fostered with the
After negotiations with local officials, Liu successfully helped gain the fishermen's release. "This incident is a good example, demonstrating the role and accomplishments of civic power, particularly in the absence of formal diplomatic ties," Liu says. "Sometimes, NGOs can even build more substantive external relations than diplomatic channels can. I'm happy to see my organization doing this through the credibility it has gained in the international community over time."